SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) -Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele on Thursday deployed the military to patrol streets throughout the country in response to a surge in murders this week.

The military deployment follows more than 30 homicides on Tuesday and Wednesday in the impoverished Central American nation of about 6.5 million people. Average daily homicides had dropped to less than two per day under Bukele, who took office in 2019.

“We have deployed our national police and armed forces to contain the increase in homicides registered over the last 48 hours,” Bukele posted on Facebook alongside videos of soldiers patrolling the streets.

It was not clear how many soldiers were deployed or how long the operation would last. Bukele alleged there were “dark forces” at work, without elaborating.

A government source said that the majority of the troops would patrol densely populated areas of the capital, San Salvador. The country has been terrorized by street gangs since shortly after the end of its civil war in 1992.

The sight of soldiers on streets will sit uneasily with Bukele’s critics, who accuse the president of growing authoritarianism. Bukele, 40, proclaimed himself “dictator” in his Twitter bio in recent weeks in an apparent joke that did little to soothe the opposition fears. (Full Story)

He was strongly criticized in 2020 for occupying congress with military and police, which many saw as an intimidation tactic. Bukele has also announced plans to double the military in coming years to 40,000 troops from 20,000.

Murder rates have dropped sharply under Bukele and newspaper El Faro last year alleged government officials negotiated with gang members to reduce violence in exchange for better conditions in prison.

Bukele called the article a “farce,” but the attorney general said it would investigate.(Full Story)

On Thursday, Bukele’s political opponents speculated on social media that the uptick in homicides could be a sign that the truce is falling apart.

Bukele’s troop deployment is likely a political “stunt” that illustrates the limits and fragility of the security arrangement, according to Tiziano Breda, an International Crisis Group analyst for Central America.

“It shows the extremely low levels of violence were not due to successful public security policies but rather they were a result of a decision by gangs to scale down the displays of violence,” Breda said.

“The gangs still have the ability to change or alter these violence trends if they decide to do so.” The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bukele said more measures to halt the violence would be announced in the coming hours.

(Reporting by Gerardo Arbaiza, writing by Jake Kincaid, editing by Drazen Jorgic and Cynthia Osterman)